Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance. This week, I am so honored to have Holly Michael as my guest. For one, I have a six-year-old who is DESPERATE to be the next greatest NFL player, and Holly has two football playing sons — so I already feel some kinship there. But, she also has faced the same struggles within the Christian publishing world I’ve faced – in that the decision to self-publish came out of the fact that our books deal with a reality that traditional Christian fiction tends to be afraid to publish. I love that she is finding success and readership after publishing her book herself, and look forward to seeing more from her. Please enjoy her interview as much as I did.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am a wife to Anglican Bishop Leo Michael and mom to three grown kids—two tight end football players (Jake-NFL and Nick-University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and a sweet daughter in grad school. I’m a “hybrid” author–indie and traditionally published as well as a writer of fiction and nonfiction. My diverse writing background includes being published in various national magazines, local newspapers, and in several Guideposts books and magazines. I’ve been a journalist and features writer and has also done corporate writing and editing.
Tell us about your current release. CROOKED LINES threads the lives of two determined souls from different continents and cultures. Compelling characters struggle with spirituality through despair and deceptions in search of truth. The back cover blurb says it best: On the shores of Lake Michigan, Rebecca Meyer seeks escape. Guilt-ridden over her little sister’s death, she sets her heart on India, a symbol of peace. Across the ocean in South India, Sagai Raj leaves his tranquil hill station home and impoverished family to answer a higher calling. Pushing through diverse cultural and religious milieus, he labors toward his goals, while wrong turns and bad choices block Rebecca from hers. Traveling similar paths and bridged across oceans through a priest, the two desire peace and their divine destiny. But vows and blind obedience at all costs must be weighed…and buried memories, unearthed.
Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful? This is an interesting question because originally I imagined CROOKED LINES would fit best in the mainstream market. After CROOKED LINES became a semifinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award, I got an agent who suggested we also pitch it to the Christian Market. While I got wonderful comments from some of the major publishers, it was not seen as a “perfect fit” for either market. I ended up having two slightly different versions of CROOKED LINES—a mainstream market version with more graphic scenes and some mild bad language and a clean version made acceptable for the Christian Market. I decided I needed to stick to the version I was most comfortable with—the cleaner version—and self-publish.
What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? On the Christian Bookstore shelves, I notice a lot of “bonnet fiction” and I’m always up for a good Amish fiction read, but I think Christian Fiction needs to be more diverse. It’s too confined to perfect characters who may struggle, but only grow more perfect. I’d like to see more real characters like Sagai and Rebecca in Crooked Lines who aren’t perfect and come up against religious politics and prejudices. Christian Fiction must honor God, (as does Crooked Lines) but it should be more diverse and maybe a bit edgier and go beyond the typical genres. Characters need to be real. I consider myself a faithful reader of Christian fiction, and yet my life has not been the walk of a perfect Christian. I’ve stumbled, sinned, and grown in my faith over the years. While Christian Fiction must be a “clean read”, I’d like to see a little more blurring of the lines between “Christian” and “Mainstream.”
How did you determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? I mentioned a little bit of this above, but I’ve been traditionally published in Guideposts Books and I also have a contract with Harvest House for a devotional that I’m writing with my son, a type one diabetic NFL player. At first, I really wanted the status of being traditionally published and am with my second agent now, but like I said above, Crooked Lines didn’t exactly fit in any genre, which made it difficult to get published traditionally. One Amazon reviewer wrote “it defies a genre” Others call Crooked Lines “Christian Fiction” Another reviewer declared it “literary fiction.” I’ve got reviews from a Hindu and from those who describe themselves as “non-religious” but gave it five stars and found themselves surprised by how much they enjoyed it. So, self-publishing made sense with this book. I guess I must judge each of my works and decide how to publish. Having taken the plunge into self-publishing the pros are being able to get your fiction out there quickly instead of waiting through the two-year process from acceptance to publication. Now, with a sequel to Crooked Lines in the works and other books finished, I don’t think I’m willing to wait it out with the traditional publishing time-lines, even if they offered contracts.
Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write? Ideas develop into plotlines in my head and refuse to be mapped and plotted out. I put up a block in my head, just thinking about outlines and plotting. So, with the ideas and the plotlines in my mind, I just start to write and it works.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Crooked Lines took too long to write. I didn’t stick with it consistently until I decided I wanted my writing to be my career. My advice depends on what the aspiring writer wants. Do you want to write a lot of books? Take your time with one book? Make writing a career, or just a casual hobby? If you decide, like I did, that you want to be a prolific writer and make writing your career, then you have to write full time, every day.
What is your preferred method of writing? I only use a pen to sign books. I do too much cut and paste and editing as I go to write with pen and paper.
I’m always intrigued by how writers get started…did you always have these books inside you and knew that you wanted to write them or did the idea just pop into your head one day and you decided to put pen to paper? Most of my writing career has been in non-fiction: journalist, features writer, and freelancer—ghostwriting and magazine/newspaper writing…until I was asked by a client to write a novel about his life. He ended up changing his mind, but I was hooked on fiction writing. So….for years I’d heard fascinating stories from my husband and his priest friends who came of age in a strict religious order in India. As young seminarians (80s and into the 1990s and beyond) , they went through some incredible experiences—serving in the slums of India, meeting Mother Teresa, rescuing youth out of radical communist situations, getting over aversions to lepers, working in orphanages and in villages with “untouchables,”, etc. I wanted to offer a glimpse of how life was in this time and place in India. Sagai is the main character from India. And knowing that while not all people have the same cultural or similar experiences, we are all people with similar hearts, emotions, and feelings. So, I used a character—Rebecca—from the United States who is dealing with guilt and grief over the tragic death of her sister (a personal experience). I also wanted to show the truth that God has a plan for our lives, no matter what comes against us. The two character grow into adults, traveling along similar pathways, while being united through a mutual mentor, Father Michael. I’ve also traveled to India several times, to most of the places mentioned in Crooked Lines, and the places did a lot to inspire me as I wrote this story.
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